Fats – the moderate view

Saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, Omega-3, Omega-6… Are you lost already? There are tons of information on the various fats and their sources but I’ll try to talk about this macro nutrient from a different point of view. Before we get down to the greasy details, let’s just get to know the basics.

Lately all the fuss has been around the fats, how healthy they are and where we should get them from – preferably from wild salmon and raw nuts, or so they say. But don’t you remember just a few years back how harmful fats were? Or at least that’s what we were being constantly told. So, beware when something is touted as either being extremely good or bad for our health. The truth is somewhere in between.

Fats, a.k.a. fatty acids or lipids, are essential to our health and well-being. They are one of the three macro nutrients and we need them on a daily basis. For instance, hormones in our bodies are secreted and created in part thanks to fats. As a matter of fact, if a person is on a very strict diet, which provides no fats consumption whatsoever, their hormone balance is bound to be disrupted. Bodybuilders with extremely low body fat percentages often suffer from low levels of sex hormones. Their production almost ceases in those extreme cases. If you have personally managed to get to those sub 6-8% of body fat you would know very well what I am talking about. I have experienced it personally a few times and it’s not nice. You get to be very easily annoyed, always hungry and you can’t even sleep properly.

What about top-level athletes, like marathon runners and cyclists? Well, same thing here. Actually, when I got into the depths of the matter a few years back I was totally surprised that those athletes are not in their best health, although they look like it. The truth is that the strenuous diet and training regimens and the overuse of their bodies are taking their toll. A great part of those athletes suffer from various health issues – hormonal imbalances, eating disorders, and even psychological issues.

Two of the hormones in our bodies, which are responsible for our satiety and hunger signals – leptin and ghrelin, are also related to fats. They both receive their cues from either the fatty acids in our food in our gastrointestinal tract or from the fat stored in our adipose tissue (fat cells). In plain words, we need our food to have a little bit of fat in it, so that we receive that satiety signal. All of the macro nutrients contribute to the feeling of satiety, in their own specific way. This is why our diet is good to be balanced and not to exclude any one of them. Don’t skip the fats, don’t skip the carbs and definitely don’t skip the proteins. You are likely to pay dearly for it later on if you try to cut out one of them for a prolonged time. Just keep it within reasonable quantities.

On the other hand, it is really easy to consume more fats than our bodies require. They may be healthy, but the idea of the increased consumption of fats is to increase the ratio of healthy to unhealthy ones, not to drown ourselves in them. Nuts, olive oils, fish oils are common and who of us hasn’t eaten a whole package of nuts without even noticing it gone? Or who hasn’t spilled a lot more olive oil on the salad than they originally wanted? The problem with this is that compared to the other two macro nutrients the fats are more than twice as calorie dense – 9 kcals / gram. Let’s have an example – a 100 grams of nuts (roasted or not, salted or not) varies around 600-650 kcals. A typical bag of those is usually between 150-200 grams. So, it is shamefully easy to consume 1000-1300 kcals eating those while scrolling your Facebook. As a point of reference, for this calorie budget you could have two, almost three good, balanced meals.

Do you eat oats for breakfast? Do you add a few spoons of chia or flax seeds? Then some honey to sweeten it up? Yes, that’s what a lot of people do and they consider it healthy. Well, it’s tasty, it’s rich in carbs and definitely fats, but most of all – calories. Do you really want to start the morning with almost a 1,000 calorie breakfast, which doesn’t provide you any meaningful quantity of protein?

The point is to try to portion your diet, no matter whether the fats, carbs, and proteins are “healthy” or not. Keep it smart and don’t buy into all those fads.

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